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Decarbonisation of the Natural Gas grid with biomethane for Renewable Heating

Kostas Dasopoulos
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Heating our homes, businesses and public buildings accounts for almost one third (27% heating) of Europe’s final energy consumption. Space heating accounts for approximately 70% of a building’s energy needs and the heating of hot water 15%, meaning about 85% of the energy needs of buildings is used for heating[1]. Heat is generated through the use of appliances such as boilers, micro-combined heat and power (mCHP) and heat pumps, which convert an input energy (such as gas) into thermal energy (such as hot water).

The majority of heating appliances currently used are gas-fuelled, with a market share of just over 45%.[2] The number of heating oil appliances is also significant at just under 20% of the market share. Electricity comes a close third in providing heat for our private and public spaces with around 17%, while the remainder is taken up by heating networks, biomass and coal.

Currently, gaseous fuels used in the European Union are dominated by natural gas, a fuel of fossil origin. Natural gas is composed mostly of methane (around 90%) and is consequently associated with greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide when the natural gas is used as fuel or as methane when the natural gas is produced, processed, transported and used.

Decarbonisation of gas can be achieved by different ways and means. In other words, decarbonisation entails different ways by which the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the life cycle of natural gas from its source to the end user can be avoided, eradicated, or mitigated.

The best way to decarbonise natural gas nowadays is to find techniques to produce methane from renewable resources, such as biomass or natural waste. The resulting fuel is typically biogas (a mixture of methane and other gases) or biomethane (resulting from the separation of methane from the other biogas components, mainly CO2). The produced biomethane can easily be feed into the pipelines and consumed in the building sector for heating purposes. Biomethane can theoretically be directly injected into the existing gas network as a low-carbon alternative to natural gas, using the existing infrastructure. Decarbonisation of the gas grid or 'greening the gas grid' is essential to reach future renewable energy targets, particularly for heating.

Biomethane’s benefits include:

  • Net zero emissions.
  • Interchangeability with existing natural gas usage as both of them consist of 90% CH4 and display the same properties.
  • Ability to capture methane emissions from other processes such as landfill and manure production.
  • Potential economic opportunity for struggling rural areas.
  • Creation of skilled jobs in planning, engineering, operating and maintenance of biogas and biomethane plants.
  • Gradual reduction in the heating prices, as biomethane production costs are expected to fall in the coming decade as more biogas plants come on stream.

Decarbonised gases are only produced and used in the European Union on a minor scale, with the bulk being biogas and biomethane. That’s why most of the natural gas in Europe is imported (ca. 80%)[3]. For instance, Denmark currently represents about 10% of biomethane injected in the natural gas grid[4], whereas other countries like Greece, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia etc. are barely reaching 2-3%. Consequently, there is a lot of great potential[5].

The scaling up of gas decarbonisation poses thus numerous challenges, ranging from assuring that the field is level for all available technology options and pathways, to supporting innovation by the appropriate regulation, to monitoring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas emissions across the entire international gas supply chain, to properly defining “green gases”, to making sure that competition is fair and market integration works.


[1] Heating: the EU’s most important energy consumer ( )


[3] Decarbonisation of Gas ACER ( )

[4] The future of biogas in Europe: it’s a local affair ( )

[5] New report highlights biomethane ramp-up and best pathways for full renewable gas deployment ( )


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